GREAT FALLS — On Friday, Cascade County Commissioners met to discuss the future of the elections department after stripping election duties from the Clerk & Recorder's Office earlier this week.
An action on the agenda item was to establish an Interim Election Administrator. After the commission meeting, it was clear that the process will take some time.
"We reviewed some things that needed to happen before or be looked at for a safe landing for that new department to come in," said Cascade County Commissioner, Rae Grulkowski. There are some physical aspects as well as just mechanical, and we discussed moneys that would be needed to make that happen."
Grulkowski opposed resolution 23-62 which removed election duties from the clerk’s office.
Grulkowski said, "One of the reasons I opposed that is because Sandra (Merchant) did not have a part in that decision. That decision was made without appropriate information, so now at the table, it was agreed that she would be a part of the decisions going forward. I feel that is a strong commitment, and that will help our county succeed through this process. I'm grateful that Sandra is now being recognized as the person that will get us through this transition."
During a portion of the meeting, commissioners discussed keys to the election's office as well as access to county spaces.
Grulkowski said there was a bucket of keys that was taken, which had keys to other buildings in the election's office. Briggs asked why that hadn’t been inventoried by the election’s office.
Public Works Director Les Payne said that his office only asked for the keys to the election's office, which is the standard when someone vacates a position.
After the December 12 vote to remove election duties, Briggs said he talked to the human resources director asking him to meet with current election staff to help develop a job description.
Public comment was offered towards the end of the meeting. Many expressed their opposition to the resolution.
Julie Bass said, "You told me you get to decide for me, who I get to vote for. You took her right away, and you can rescind this resolution today."
Another person at the podium said, "Let's have a little more professionalism, a little more thought, and more discussion prior to some major changing and whatever happens next."
Commissioner Joe Briggs said, "the public was emotional, and that's to be expected. I do hope at some point, that starts settling down because it certainly slows us getting the pieces put back together here.
Commissioners said it is vital for Sandra Merchant to be involved in this process.
"We do hope that she will be an asset to us as we move forward in these discussions," Briggs said. "Commissioner Grulkowski wants her involved. I think that’s a great idea because Sandra does have knowledge of that office. She knows what she has and has not gotten set up thus far. I do want to make use of her.”
The next commission meeting is slated for Tuesday, December 19, at the Commission Chambers.
"My hope is that the next meeting we have, we can finish the issue of the interim and be able to have a job description for that and be able to assess whether we have any internal employees that we would like to ask to take in that position, if we want to go externally. Along with that, I'd like to have the permanent posting for the Election Administrator on the street next week."